This is the first installment in our VP Summer Series, a podcast mini-series focusing on the unique challenges facing senior enrollment and marketing leaders. In this episode, we’ll be discussing the role of the Vice President–how it differs from other roles someone would occupy on the way to a VP-level position and what it takes to be a strong candidate if you’ve got your sights set on a VP-level job. Joining us in the conversation is Mary Napier, Principal Consultant at Napier Executive Search.

We’re also joined by Echo Delta’s own Laura Martin Fedich, who will be co-hosting each of our VP Summer Series podcasts.

We discuss:

  • The unique dynamics that exist in VP-level roles
  • The kinds of experiences and education that make for competitive candidates
  • How to determine if now is really the right time for you to pursue a VP-level position
  • Common cliches you should avoid in interviews and what to say instead
  • How executive search firms work
  • The right way to connect with an executive search firm if you’d like to be considered for positions
  • How to evaluate opportunities at other schools to gauge if they’re the right fit.

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Transcript

Jarrett Smith:
You’re listening to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab. I’m your host, Jarrett Smith. Welcome to the Higher Ed Marketing Lab, I’m Jarrett Smith. Each episode it’s my job to engage with some of the brightest minds in higher education and the broader world of marketing to bring you actionable insights you can use to level up your school’s marketing and enrollment efforts. This is the first installment in our VP summer series, a podcast mini-series focusing on the unique challenges facing senior enrollment and marketing leaders.

In this episode, we’ll be discussing the role of the vice president, how it differs from other roles someone would occupy on the way to a VP level position and what it takes to be a strong candidate if you’ve got your sights set on a VP level job. Joining us in the conversation is Mary Napier, Principal Consultant at Napier Executive Search. I’ll also be joined by Echo Delta’s own Laura Martin Fedich, who will be co-hosting each of our VP summer series podcasts. We start by discussing some of the unique dynamics that exist in senior leadership roles.

And Mary shares her thoughts on the kinds of experiences in education that make for competitive candidates. She also offers advice on how to assess whether now is really the right time to pursue a VP-level position. Then we cover the basics of how executive search firms work and how to evaluate opportunities at other schools to gauge if they’re the right fit. Mary was a generous guest and shared many insights that I know will be valuable for anyone considering a senior leadership position. So without further ado, here’s our conversation with Mary Napier. Mary, welcome to the show.

Mary Napier:
Thank you so much, Jarrett, for having me here today. I’m excited.

Jarrett Smith:
Well, I’m excited too. I think this is going to be a great conversation. I would love it for you to just give us a little snapshot of your background and in the work that you do.

Mary Napier:
Wonderful. Well, I’m here as part of Napier Executive Search. Napier Executive Search was founded in 2014 and we work exclusively in the enrollment management search space. I’ve done that even before we started working with this company, 10 years ago actually, with a woman named Terry Lahti who is a legendary in the field of enrollment management and somebody whose values aligned with my own in terms of making sure that people are cared for throughout the entire search process. Prior to enrollment management search, I was in enrollment management myself.

I was an interim VP for enrollment at Manhattanville College. And then worked 16 years at a variety of institutions. And little known fact about me is that I did a self-designed major to go into college admission work which is very weird, but has worked well for me. So that’s a little bit about me. Our firm itself, we work with practitioners. So everyone who is a search consultant was also in the field of enrollment management, so knows the kinds of questions that candidates are gonna ask and the kinds of questions that institutions need and want answered.

Jarrett Smith:
So I’m wondering if you can kind of talk to us a little bit about how that role is kind of different, because I think when someone’s stepping into that role for the first time, that’s obviously a huge step in their career and it’s not uncommon for them to enter in that role and realize, “Hey, this is a little different than it looked on the outside.” And I wonder if you could just talk to us a little bit about that for the folks who’ve never occupied that seat. What are the things that they don’t tell you about it before you get there?

Mary Napier:
Oh, great. So I think enrollment management search at the chief level means understanding and knowing the roots of the work, of course, but it’s a great deal of collaboration, probably more collaboration than people have necessarily done in their background. So any kind of collaborative work, whether it’s with faculty or whether it’s with boards, whether it’s with alumni, whether it’s with outside entities, that becomes a big part. The other thing is that you become not just someone who can solely think about the recruitment cycle, but has to be somebody who’s a player on the stage of the institution as well.

And so, needs to be deeply aligned with the culture of the institution, but also the culture of the other senior leadership members. So that’s a big part. And typically a big adjustment. I think there’s also that authoritative voice that people ask you to have when the day before they would have listened to you, of course you hope, but they listened to you with different ears and you some times as the person in the role will wonder, I’m the same person I was yesterday, so why is my voice either more or less important than it was? And so, it’s coming to terms and adjustment with that in both a humble, but also in a way that allows you to step up.

Jarrett Smith:
You rise to this role, people view you differently, but you don’t realize that they’re viewing you differently. You’re still, “I’m still me. I was just asking a simple question.”

Mary Napier:
Exactly. Exactly. And Laura, this would be a part, and as someone who was in a senior leadership role at an institution, I’d be curious to know if you had some thoughts about that as well.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s a lot. It’s pressure, right? It’s the pressure, all of the sudden, you are the expert and you represent every bit of enrollment knowledge that your team has as well. And folks are always looking for you to have the vision and have all the answers and also keep them updated on the latest trends and what you’re doing and keep them positive as well. They want to know that enrollment’s going to come and strong and goals are going to be met. And so, you feel like you’re a little bit part cheerleader, part statistician and part educator at the same time. Yeah.

Mary Napier:
And you know, I was thinking a little bit about this as in relationship to our last conversation and I felt like there were two words that seem to really underscore the importance of this. And one is communication. And Laura, that speaks exactly to what you were just mentioning is just super-duper over the topic communication, very clear, very concise. But the other word is alignment, and it’s alignment with the goals of the institution, alignment with the responsibilities and keeping as many parts of the role aligned as possible.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Absolutely. So all of these things, and as I was doing my little bit of my list there, it made me think, oh gosh, how does somebody know when they’re ready? How do you know when you’re ready? So maybe you’ve been in enrollment like me, I started right out of college and I went back and forth. I don’t know if I want to be a director and then, yeah, I want to be a director. And then it took some years to really decide. And how do you know? How do you do that self-assessment? Is it a spidey sense kind of a thing? How do you know when you’re ready?

Mary Napier:
Yeah. I think it’s all of those. I mean, I really do think when we’re working with leaders who are aspiring to the position we hear that they go through a bit of a period of discernment all the way along. Interestingly, I think this pandemic and that some of the changes in higher education have provided some of those moments where people are thinking about their own career, what gives them great joy with what they do, what maximizes the skills and abilities that they have. When we’re talking with people who are thinking about aspiring to senior leadership positions we ask them a series of questions about, it’s not a box ticking, but it is one of those situations where we want to know that they’ve had collaborative experiences, that they’ve been exposed to strategic vision or had strategic vision themselves, that they’ve set goals for themselves and accomplish them, that they’ve worked in deep partnership with others on their team.

And that they have that ability to be able to say, “All right, I’m ready to reach for the next thing.” And it will match up with their own goals. The other thing that, there’s the readiness of the individual, of course. But there’s also the readiness of the full self. And that includes who else they’re connected with and who else had impacts. Does a move from the role that they’re currently playing to a senior leadership role entail other people in their lives, whether those are spouses or parents or partners or children and how that’s going to impact. And as with anything great in life you can’t ever predict how that’s all going to go, but I think having given that some very serious thought is a big part of knowing your own readiness moving forward.

Laura Martin Fedich:
I agree. I agree with that. And when you’re at that level there are a fair amount of evening weekend things that are social in nature. There may be a board retreat where a partner or spouse might be invited. There are different things like that. So I definitely think it’s a group decision because a lot of the time in these positions the partner can sort of take a back seat a little bit for priorities at certain times of year. I think that’s really wise. So speaking of checking the boxes, and I love how you put that because it literally feels like that, right. It feels like you’re checking the box. So let me ask you some really specific boxes to check. Do you need an advanced degree?

Mary Napier:
In higher education when education is the coin of the realm, it absolutely to your best advantage to go for an advanced degree. I think in past years people in enrollment and admissions couldn’t quite figure out how to do that and do the travel that was required of them and the job. But fortunately in today’s educational environment there are online options, there are weekend programs. So while what you get your degree in doesn’t always necessarily prepare you specifically for enrollment, someone who is in higher education should love to learn. It’s just-

Laura Martin Fedich:
They go together.

Mary Napier:
It’s a big part of it. That’s right.

Laura Martin Fedich:
That’s right. Yeah. I did mine while I was in career, is what they called it. And it ended up being an advantage to me to do my master’s while I was working full-time because I did a master’s in public administration and we were required to have sort of a practicum or maybe sort of like an internship. And because I was in career, I got credit for that. So there was sort of something that was, I got to skip over, so there is a benefit. Even though it’s a lot to work and do an advanced degree, and we’ve all known lots of people who’ve done that. All right. So the other question I have about checking boxes is supervisory experience. How strong is that in the whole leadership skill thing and leadership philosophy? Talk about that a little bit.

Mary Napier:
Sure. I think supervisory experience is absolutely important. And what is, I think, the most important is self-awareness of your own style and how you think about yourself as a supervisor, what goals you have set for yourself and for your team. All of those are really important elements. And one thing about enrollment management, if you think about kind of the history of it, I would say that an enrollment management when it was admissions was highly relational. I mean, to the point that the pendulum was here, it’s far to the side as you possibly could have in relational. And then for a while the field moved as far to the other side of the pendulum swing, as far to the other side with regards to analytical skills and abilities.

And so, I think someone who is going to really be successful as with everything is if you can come to that middle where you’ve got the connection between that relational, supervisory, people skill orientation but you also can see the data and the trends and the understanding going forth there. I would also say that depending on the level of the position back to that supervisory, specifically that supervisory box, I would say at that dean and director level, it’s going to be absolutely essential that someone already have had some practice in hiring, mentoring, supervisoring, evaluating cajoling, meeting people where they are. And then at that senior level it’s important to see who around you also has those skills that you can effectively delegate that to so that your team feels both supported and fed all along the way of the cycle.

Jarrett Smith:
And now for a short break. Hey, everyone, Jarrett here. The past year has brought so many challenges for the higher education enrollment community. And if you’re like many enrollment leaders, you’re looking forward to being on the other side of census. So you can finally step back and think about your strategy for the upcoming year. That’s why Jeff [Clay 00:15:20] and I will be hosting Post-Up, a free four-part webinars series for enrollment leaders starting September 29th. From search to yield to campus visits, Jeff and I will engage with Echo Delta’s enrollment experts to help you come back even stronger and smarter than before. Visit echodelta.co/post-up to register. That’s echodelta.co/post-up, all one word. I hope you’ll join us. And now back to the show.

You know, Mary, ultimately if you’re a successful candidate you hope that you will get the opportunity to interview at some point. And hopefully have a series of interviews. I’m wondering, assuming you check those boxes and you’ve done the self-assessment and the universe is aligning and you’re like this is right for me. How can they stand out and really be competitive during that specific part of the process?

Mary Napier:
Yeah. Oh, that’s a great question, Jared. Really, the number one thing they can do is do that self-assessment that we talked about. The second thing is to research the institution with Abandoned using iPads, using common data sets for institutions. And so, really studying what the story is of the institution, but then also checking things like their website and being aware of what is going to be a top of mind issue for the institution. And so, will allow you to start connecting right away with people. The other thing I think people can do is as they think about their skillset is to consider what are really great examples of how I do that?

So if I feel like I’m a strong communicator, where are examples where I have been incredibly effective as a communicator and allowed something that might’ve been difficult to explain, I’ve been able to break it down into language or break it down into processes that have allowed others to join in really effectively. And so, typically when those interviews are happening you’re not the only person talking to them. And so, to stand out is to find ways without using cliches of how you are excellent at what you do. So supervisors, please don’t say you have an open door policy. Just don’t say it.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah. Well, I will say, as soon as you said cliches I was like, “Ooh, Mary, what are the cliches?” So open door policy, check. Don’t say that. Any other greatest hits, team player, maybe?

Mary Napier:
Yeah. Team player without [crosstalk 00:18:12].

Laura Martin Fedich:
People person. How about people person?

Jarrett Smith:
People person.

Mary Napier:
Right, exactly. Or I didn’t grow up thinking I would be an admission counselor. Well, true, but who grows up thinking that they’re going to be X, Y or Z, it’s just an odd thing. So I think the best thing is if you, and if you are a cliche prone, and I am you, you have to try to also think about what is the really specific example that describes it. And without breaking any confidentiality or breaking any situation that would tell too much about the institution you currently serve, because that’s the other thing you want to do is you want to demonstrate the respect that you have for the people that you’re speaking with, the process that you’re going through. And the fact that you may or may not come out as the person they’re selecting.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s a great, great bit of advice. Which kind of sparked to me a thought about internal candidates.

Mary Napier:
Yeah. It’s common that at the institutions who hire us, that there may be someone who is either on the rise or thinking about the opportunity. And so, how we counsel internal candidates is, first of all, we suggest that they think through the entire process. So think it through as if you are going to get the position and think it through as if you are not going to get the position and how will that change, how will your world be different? Most executive searches will guarantee confidentiality through a certain point.

And so, it’s important for an internal candidate to be aware of that. But I think for an internal candidate to really shine they have to know the field. They have to have put themselves into that opportunity of this is what I would do if I’m it, they have to own the process and they have to determine or indicate this is how I would operate, again, with a deviation from perhaps the way it’s always been done at that particular institution. Because what that says is that they’ve thought about what kind of changes they would make, or they have thought about what kind of opportunities are there.

So I think, I always encourage an internal candidate if in fact they’re ready or are hopeful. But I also want to help mitigate their expectations to a certain extent because the reason that a search firm is often hired, even if there’s talent internally, is to make sure that they’re seeking or they’re looking far and wide, that the institution is looking far and wide nationally, internationally for a candidate who’s going to be the next right leader for that particular office or institution.

Jarrett Smith:
So do you see it as being a particular disadvantage to be an internal candidate, or do you think they really have as much of a fair shot as anybody else has? What’s been your kind of experience?

Mary Napier:
Yeah. It’s everyone’s opportunity to win it. But somebody who thinks because they’ve served maybe 20 years at an institution automatically deserves the right or the opportunity to be that leader will find that that is not necessarily the case. And so, being self-aware is absolutely critical. Having people who can help speak to be supportive of you, but also be realistic in terms of the skills and abilities that you’re there. And that’s oftentimes when we are doing intake conversations with candidates who are internal or external, we are thinking about the skill sets that are necessary, that are there.

And we’ve had conversations with an internal or an external candidate and we’ve talked about, we’ve asked a question that clearly they’ve not had any experience with. And how they gauge what they know and how they gauge what they need to learn in a particular area. Oftentimes gives us clues as to how quickly they might move forward. So I mean, we’ve had a couple of searches recently where an internal candidate has gotten the position and it’s been just a joy to watch that person come into their own.

And we’ve had others where internal candidates have struggled to convince their colleagues on the search committee that they’re the right person. And neither of those are… Well, the second one is not a failure. I wouldn’t say it’s a failure. What it is just a reality check. And Laura, you’ve probably heard people say this before, sometimes at institutions you have to move out to move up. And to become the person who brings a fresh set of eyes to an institution can be incredibly valuable at that particular circumstance.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. I think that’s what say it in enrollment is that, and why so many of us have moved around is that oftentimes you do have to move geographically too to move up for those opportunities. That’s true. Back to your point about it’s a family decision. That’s for sure. Hey, can I drill down into something that you talked about? You said something that just sort of caught my attention. You said confidentiality, that these searches are kept confidential to a certain point.

So I’ve been on both sides of it, right? Where I’ve been the candidate and then I’ve been on the side where I’ve had staff members who are pursuing other opportunities. And I always wonder about this, from your point of view, Mary, when is the best time and where is the responsibility around informing your current supervisor that you’re looking at something? I think I’m thinking more externally than an internal candidate.

Mary Napier:
Sure.

Laura Martin Fedich:
How do you? In the spirit of let’s not burn our bridges, right? Yeah.

Mary Napier:
And that is something we should never do. We should never burn our bridges. So I actually advise very young admissions staff who feel like its something that they want to pursue to start talking with their supervisor right away. And to say, eventually, I’d love the opportunity to do what it is you do. And by enlisting them early on, you find out what are those skills and abilities you should be able to do. And if your supervisor isn’t responsive, then you find mentors outside of the office to be able to determine that. But I think that is always one of those situations where following the advice of you want to control your narrative.

And that’s another part of the whole search process. So control your narrative means that you’re the one telling your boss, not that it’s coming back through the grapevine and the very small world of enrollment management that you might be applying for a position or might be in strong consideration for the position. And there are different levels and we advise candidates all along the way, because we answer the questions that they’re asking us as opposed to… Because there’s not a blanket that you can put over it and say, “Okay, this is what you should always do.”

But you do want to control. If you keep at the center that you’re controlling your narrative in a way that you feel like you can live with, then that’s the best thing. I think you always want to give people an opportunity to react and to be supportive of you. And that that comes back to one of the things that we’ve already talked a little bit about which is respecting the process and respecting the others with whom you work. Did that answer it? Or was that specific enough?

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah, that was really good.

Mary Napier:
Do I need to give you a specific example? From what I know and don’t know?

Laura Martin Fedich:
Sorry. I was thinking about myself there for a minute. I went into the ether of memory and it was a little bit of a traumatic memory of a staff member who did tell me that he was looking for another position at another institution. And then I told him, and I said, “If you decide to take the position, please let me know before you tell your colleagues because I really want to hear it from you.” So he called me on my honeymoon and told me on my honeymoon that he was leaving. I said, “All right.” That’s not really what I meant. I do think this could have waited. But anyway, that’s just a funny little-

Jarrett Smith:
Timing is everything. A good cliché that’s there for a reason.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Exactly. [crosstalk 00:27:51] And understanding the nuances of communication.

Mary Napier:
And actually, Laura, that does circle back to that air of authority that someone who is in that boss or supervisor position may say something that they definitely mean, but you need more oftentimes, more information.

Laura Martin Fedich:
So you’re telling me that I need to own the fact that-

Mary Napier:
I don’t know.

Laura Martin Fedich:
… he was just doing what I told him to do. Right?

Mary Napier:
Exactly.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Fortunately, I love him a lot so it was all okay anyway.

Mary Napier:
And it makes for a good story at their going away party, too.

Laura Martin Fedich:
That’s right. That’s right. That is right.

Jarrett Smith:
Good stuff. Well, we’ve been talking kind of very broadly about the VP role, a little bit touching here and there a bit on the role of executive search firms. But Mary, I mean, firms like yours play a very specific role in the process. And for those folks who maybe have never engaged with an executive search firm, wondering if you could just outline for us, what role do you play in this process? Where do you fit in to all of this?

Mary Napier:
Right. Well, it’s important for people to know that we’re hired by the institution and were hired for the expertise of the network that we serve and understanding that. So that’s the first thing to do. What I think a search firm can do really effectively for an institution is to provide an in-depth understanding of enrollment management. And that, from our perspective doesn’t just come from our own experiences, but it comes from our day after day after day conversations with some of the best and the brightest who are doing the work well hearing best practices, hearing how people are pivoting during the pandemic, hearing how people are adjusting to online experiences and what they’re learning and all of that. So part of what executive search does is provide a realistic lens.

What we can also do is we can disavow an institution of the hopefulness that there is a perfect candidate for a position, but in fact help them really kind of discern what it is they’re seeking. And hearing that through our understanding of the position and then making sure to feed that back even as we’re writing position announcement and talking with candidates. The other thing that I think a search firm can do for an institution and for a candidate when they’re doing it well is to provide clarity on both sides. So people can oftentimes ask a search firm a question that they would be a little reluctant to ask someone who is at the institution. So it could be about the genesis of the position. Why someone departed? Why the position is open? What the goals are?

Are the goals realistic? Are they something that can be conceived of? So we serve a variety of things. The other thing that I think especially Napier Executive Search does really well is we are incredibly organized on behalf of the institution and that assists the candidates as well. Because our focus is making sure that process continues to move forward and that balls aren’t dropped. As a senior leader whether it’s a president or a vice president who’s hiring us, they’re keeping so many things float and balls in the air and juggling to make sure that priorities are reached whereas our focus is on that search process. And so, that oftentimes means that when you set a timeline that the timeline is achieved as much as possible.

And so, the institution can feel like it’s an opening but it’s an opening for a certain period of time that they know a candidate will be able to fill successfully at the tail end of that. So that I think is as part of what we do. And the other thing we do is we cheer for both sides. We cheer for the candidates who are being brave enough to put themselves out there and to make them feel supported providing with information. Because I think as humans that’s what we want. Right? We want people to tell us either how well we’re doing. Or we want them to say, “All right, good. You completed what you needed to do.” And then we cheer, of course, for the institution to find that person who they feel is going to be a catalyst for providing the next set of changes or the next set of success at an institution. It’s a great job. It’s a fun job. I truly love it.

Laura Martin Fedich:
You know, being on the candidate side I’ve thought about you all in those long days of first round interviews, because typically a first round interview would be at a what they call a neutral spot. Right? Maybe an airport or a hotel. And so, you’re not maybe going to the campus the first time around and usually the search firms, a representative from the search firm is there making sure it’s all organized and that candidates aren’t running into each other, again, the confidentiality. But I think I told you both my embarrassing story of my first search in which I was a candidate. I naively so thought that the executive search firm was sort of working for me.

And I don’t know. And I work with Terry Lahti who you mentioned at the onset and you’re both such lovely people and so generous. And I thought, oh, she’s going to help me with this. And she was very, very helpful. But it’s important to know, I think, that you all you are working for the institution but you will be honest with us. And then on being on the other side and being a member of search committees, I have found the executive search firm representatives just to be very helpful to share little personal bits about a person that may inform different things. So I think a candidate also should be aware that things that they share will probably be shared if it becomes relevant. And it’s not like talking to a reporter where you’re never off the record. It’s not like that, but you all are to a person very warm and open and wise. But it’s a professional relationship.

Mary Napier:
It is. It’s important for a search firm to be neutral. But it’s also possible for a search firm to be supportive of both the institution and the candidates going forward. So yeah, that’s going to be the big part, I think, as people are walking through that for sure.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah.

Jarrett Smith:
Mary, is it appropriate for individuals to reach out to a firm like yours or to attempt in some way to establish a connection so they’re on the radar for when searches come up? Is there a good way to go about doing that because you clearly are not offering career services for the individual, right?

Mary Napier:
That’s right.

Jarrett Smith:
It’s very different what your world is, but I’m just curious your thoughts on that.

Mary Napier:
Yeah. That’s a great question. And it comes to that depends answer, so it depends on where you’re headed. But if this is a field that you see yourself rising in the leadership of just people who’ve just started into the field and are asking their supervisor for support and assistance, there are ways in times to do that. I think the ways we find out about candidates first is oftentimes, or two ways, one is if there’s a particular position on our board that is intriguing to someone. And if somebody who wants to call and see if they would be considered for that, there can be a conversation around it.

The closer you are to the pin of what that school is looking for, probably the longer that conversation would be. The other way, and we’ve done this recently. We open up what we call career conversations. So regardless of the positions that are there when our team has time and really bandwidth to be able to speak with who is on the up and up, and who’s coming up is to schedule a 30-minute conversation there to just see how you might be building your resume in a way that allows you to jump off the page that shows the examples of the work that you’ve done.

And certainly any time anybody from a search firm is talking at a public space, whether that’s at NASDAQ or whether it is at one of the local state and regionals and giving out advice, take good note of that. And that oftentimes can suffice in many ways even as the conversation doesn’t happen. So I sometimes think of people who’ve who I consider enrollment superstars, and I can oftentimes remember where I was when I was sitting and talking with them. And realizing as they’re talking, that there’s somebody I’m going to keep an eye on and there’s somebody I’m going to… And it might be for a month. It might be for several years. And so, the fact of developing a long-term relationship with somebody in the search world is not a bad idea if you have the opportunity.

Jarrett Smith:
I want to circle back to something we were kind of talking about a few minutes ago, which is kind of this idea of fit, right? And when I hear you talk about the role that a firm like yours plays it’s really about, it’s kind of matchmaking and really finding that ideal, is the way I would think about it. And finding the kind of that ideal candidate. But fit is kind of a two-way street. And I think that the whole process, of course, is I think by default kind of oriented towards the institution finding the right candidate. And all throughout that process, of course, everybody’s going to be on their best behavior. The institution’s going to be sharing their glossiest version of themselves. And all of the candidates are going to be sharing the best possible version of themselves.

But at the end of the day, someone’s going to get placed and then they’re going to be working together and all the gloss is eventually going to wear off. And so, I just wonder how as a candidate, how do you throughout this process really think about, “Hey, is this opportunity the right one for me?” Because it would be a real shame to go through all of this and then six months into the role realized, “Wow, these goals are unrealistic or the leadership team is dysfunctional or there’s something much larger that I just didn’t pick up on.” Do you have any thoughts about how people can be smart about that? Obviously, during the interview process you don’t want to be off putting with just a barrage of pointed questions and that sort of thing, but you have to do your homework.

Mary Napier:
Right. You do have to do your homework, and it really is incumbent on you to do your homework and to ask hard questions and to figure out who those questions should be addressed to. That’s another role that a search firm can provide. So if someone has questions about the financial health of an institution, something that’s really key. What we often do is connect them with, say the CFO or someone who will be able to provide them with that detailed information. The other thing is that you want people… You don’t want it to be a spur of the moment. You wake up one day and you think, “Okay, I think I need something different and I’m going to look at this.”

So you want to be pointed in your constant discernment about yourself and what’s important there. Once you’re ready, then it’s a matter of really, really exploring as deeply as you can. And the other thing I would say is, and I think this is an advantage actually that people in enrollment management overall have. If they’re really good at the work that they do they have to be, back to that alignment, they have to be aligned with the institution and they have to make sure that as they’re speaking about the institution that they’ve got, they can stand behind it in every way, shape or form.

So if there start to be signs in someone’s head that there is this misalignment or it is not a good fit, even as early as the search process, I would encourage people to slow down. Ask for the time that they need to be able to really examine and explore that and then go forward at an appropriate time. So if you’re someone who is highly, highly big risk taker, maybe put on the brakes of being a little bit more risk averse than you might normally be for something that’s as major as a move to a new institution that in fact could be, Laura, to your point a geographical move or being somewhere where you’re someplace brand new for you and all the ones you love with you, so.

Laura Martin Fedich:
I’ve had conversations in the last, I don’t know, six months to a year, Mary, with colleagues who have left positions recently because what they thought was just a perfect fit ended up after being there for a couple of months realizing that what the institution had talked about, particularly the senior staff members and the trustees and the president, what they wanted to accomplish wasn’t necessarily true. And it was more just talking about, we want to be this institution or we want to look like this or we want this profile. But it was more of they were just saying what they thought that he needed to say. And these people that I have in mind all went there because they thought they were becoming a part of a vision.

And it was really, really important to them. And it wasn’t as important to the institution, it turned out. I don’t think it was in any case, it was intentional, but I guess I want to put you on the spot and say, is there a way that you could really have a filter where you can figure out are they genuine? Is what they’re talking about authentic? Are they being authentic in their communication about the institution’s future or the vision? So that you can align yourself. I guess that’s the point. Because again, all these people that I have in mind went there because this is their life’s work. Right. They really thought they were doing good and they weren’t aligned.

Mary Napier:
Right. Right. Ah, I wish there was a magic pill for that. Just like I went through a magic button for a silver bullet for enrollment and neither of those things exist. Yeah. I know that’s a stumper of how to try to do it. I guess what the only thing you can do is to just keep asking as many questions as you possibly can, keep checking yourself to see if this is realistic about where you’re going. Think about your own powers of persuasion and if you’d be able to change the minds there. And the ultimately I… But I also think it ultimately comes down to then assessing, even midstream of where you’re at about whether that’s an okay fit.

And so, back to my point about what is failure, failure isn’t inability to do the job, but is an inability to recognize that things are just not going to work out. So figuring out how to, if you do find yourself in a situation where it’s impossible odds and unrealistic expectations and no one to assist in the process, then maybe it’s not the place where somebody needs to be. And that’s absolutely okay, too. One of the things that we’ve seen a lot of recently, I think are, and I mentioned it a bit earlier in our conversation is just people taking time to think.

And things that once were taboo like a blank spot on your resume for three to four or 18 months, it’s okay. It really is okay. Because all along the way your content continuing to evolve and contribute and understand more about what direction you should be heading. So I mean, I think a success is when you look back and go ha ha ha, this is why this happened in the direction we were headed. And so, that’s what you really want to have happen both for the individuals, but also for the institution as well.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah. Thank you for that.

Jarrett Smith:
Mary, you mentioned something, you said more recently some things have kind of changed. So having a gap on your resume isn’t necessarily the end of the world, couple of years ago it would’ve been a big deal. Is there anything else that you’ve kind of seen change more recently maybe as a direct result of the pandemic or just something else?

Mary Napier:
Well, I mean, I think an inability to travel has impacted the search world in many ways. Laura, you were talking about the neutral site interviews, and though I think those will continue to be a reality in some instances, I think the fact that people are so comfortable on Zoom with conversations and it helps with expediency, it helps with cost-effectiveness and it can be actually more efficient and helpful to candidates as well. I think we’re going to move more in the direction of those early round interviews being virtual. So I think that’s happening. The other thing that is happening is, and this is maybe an opportunity that each person has is to say, during these past 18 months, what is it that I’ve learned about the way I work or what I value?

And we’ve seen really philosophical people coming out of the woodwork and some have come out saying, I know that I’m better at what I do because I was forced into a situation. And then our whole team was forced into a situation where we just had to think differently. And so, how we came out of that is helping me write my next chapter, whatever that might be. So that to me is exciting both for the field and for higher education. When you think about what will be the solutions, especially for places that are very student oriented. And my gosh, that’s what higher education should be about at all times that it should be student oriented.

Jarrett Smith:
Do you have any favorite resources that you recommend for folks that are aspiring to these positions of senior leadership, websites, blogs, books that you recommend to folks along the way?

Mary Napier:
Oh my gosh, I should, shouldn’t I? But let’s see, what are things I would love for people to be thinking about? Many of the organizations that serve enrollment management as partners oftentimes have best of breed information. So getting to know what each organization might lend to the field, I think, is really critical. So understanding the role that marketing organizations play with as they connect to enrollment or what search organizations might lead to, what technology partners would add to the field.

So I think it’s just a great idea to start every day with Inside Higher Education, the Chronicle of Higher Education and then making sure that you’re up on trends there and then up on trends that are happening in the field. Just to tell a story on myself, when you think of our national conference, the NACA conference and when I was an admission counselor, first I went for the dances and then later on I went for the collaboration and getting to know people. But when I became a dean of admission, I spent all my time in the vendor miserable.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Oh my gosh, I was just going to say.

Mary Napier:
Because you’re just learning, okay, [crosstalk 00:51:13] who can help me? Who is connecting and understands what it is I’m doing? And so, yeah. So that’s hitting a cord there, Laura?

Laura Martin Fedich:
It is. I didn’t hear you say anything about attending sessions.

Mary Napier:
Oh, no. And then there’s attending session. I know. I know. No, I didn’t.

Laura Martin Fedich:
[crosstalk 00:51:34] That was not nice of me.

Mary Napier:
But no, you can never get into the sessions.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Oh, that’s right. That’s right.

Mary Napier:
You know, unless you’re-

Laura Martin Fedich:
Unless you’re early, and we’re never early because you’re still-

Mary Napier:
[crosstalk 00:51:44] busy talking to people in the hallway.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Exactly. And you get there late. Oh my gosh, yes, here we go. Okay. Well, [inaudible 00:51:50].

Jarrett Smith:
Sounds like an extrovert problem to me.

Mary Napier:
Oh, it is.

Laura Martin Fedich:
Yeah, it is. It is. It is. Yeah. I appreciate what you’re saying about the technology organizations and the vendors bring to it, because there’s so much crossover. You’ll find so many former enrollment people like me that are now with an agency or with a consulting firm or college boarder, [inaudible 00:52:23] fill in the blank. So there’s just, our profession is full of just a lot of knowledge people. And I think one of the spirit of enrollment folks is always about, we’re so open about sharing what has worked. I just don’t think you see that in many industries, right? So I think you’re giving some really, really wise smart advice.

Mary Napier:
So I’m going to take that as a personal challenge, Jarrett, and I will report back to you.

Jarrett Smith:
Oh, excellent.

Mary Napier:
And perhaps some reading materials.

Jarrett Smith:
Good stuff. Well, Mary, this has just been a wonderful conversation full of some just fantastic advice. Mary, if someone is interested in learning more about your firm, perhaps connecting with you, what are the best places to do that?

Mary Napier:
Sure. Well, we’ve got a website that I think is excellent, actually. So it’s napiersearch.com. And Napier is N-A-P-I-E-R. Search, S-E-A-R-C-H.com. And then all of us can be reached. Our biographies are there and we can be reached individually through the email and that’s email and we all include our cell phones. So we’re texters and we respond to email and we are constantly keeping our website up to date with opportunities so that we’re currently serving, so.

Jarrett Smith:
Excellent.

Laura Martin Fedich:
And when conferences go back in person, when we get to that point, will you and your colleagues be back at conferences?

Mary Napier:
We will. We will. We’re definitely going to be at the national conference this year. We’re looking at a variety of other of the both state and regional and other levels of conferences that are put on by organizations. We’re excited to get back. I love that you called us out as extroverts because I’ll say the biggest majority of the people on our team are extroverts. And so we’re very much looking forward to seeing one another and traveling again and connecting in pretty deep ways.

Jarrett Smith:
That’s great. I can feel the excitement. I can see the smile on your face. The glow of, oh, to be around people again. I think I’m what they call an ambivert. So I do like talking to people, but conferences, by the end of the day I just flop into my bed and I’m exhausted.

Mary Napier:
Yeah. And that’s okay.

Jarrett Smith:
Yeah.

Mary Napier:
Yeah, it definitely is.

Jarrett Smith:
There’s room for everybody. Well, Mary, thank you so much for your time. This has just been a fantastic conversation.

Mary Napier:
Oh, thank you so much, Jared. As much fun as I thought it would be immoral. And Laura, always a pleasure to connect with you. So thanks.

Laura Martin Fedich:
So good to see you and have the conversation. And it’s been fun. I knew it would be very good.

Mary Napier:
Thanks.

Jarrett Smith:
The Higher Ed Marketing Lab is produced by Echo Delta, a full service enrollment marketing agency for colleges and universities of all sizes. To see some of the work we’ve done and how we’ve helped schools just like yours, visit echodelta.co. If you enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple podcasts. And as always, if you have a comment, question, suggestion or episode idea, feel free to drop us online at podcast@echodelta.co.